How ACF membership and certification took one chef around the world


By David Bearl, CCC®, CCE®, AAC®

Like many young people looking for work at an early age, I found the hospitality industry. I was from a large family, and a need for spending money led me to a dishwashing job at a pancake house when I was 12 years old. Little did I know that this would be the start—though modest—of a career as a certified chef.

I learned the front of the house and prep skills and finally earned a spot on the cooking line. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant, but it was extremely busy. As I went through high school and college, I worked in a number of restaurants, but, like many, thought it was just until I found that other career. After graduate school, I worked for a few years away from the kitchen, but then I returned to catering and, eventually, became director of food service for a large conference center.

My boss encouraged me to become a certified chef, and that started my ACF journey. I joined ACF St. Augustine Chapter in 1984 and embraced the path to certification, never dreaming that it would lead to a successful career. I got my first culinary teaching job, and then, after taking a position in Baltimore, helped to create a culinary school in Falls Church, Virginia. These career opportunities came along because of my ACF certifications as a chef and a culinary educator.

After a few years as dean of the school in Falls Church, I returned to teaching in St. Augustine, where I became director of the Southeast Institute of Culinary Arts. As director of education, I collaborated with the Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense to provide culinary education for cooks on submarines, surface ships and shore facilities that would lead to ACF certification. This work has taken me to countries and places I could not have imagined.

My curriculum development experience helped me to work with several school districts to start high school culinary programs. Other agencies asked for help, and together we developed culinary training programs for the homeless, the prison system and recovering drug addicts. This work also brought me into partnership with the University of Florida and work in agriculture. After six years of value-added product development for the university’s projects and grants, I became a member of the faculty.

In addition to my faculty position, I continue to build programs and conduct seminars for the military. I also administer two culinary programs for Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare, at a prison in Daytona Beach (Reality House) and Project WARM (Women Assisting Recovering Mothers). We strongly encourage ACF certification for our clients in these programs and provide them with mandatory educational requirements. At Reality House, 17 inmates have achieved initial certification, and to my knowledge, this is the only program helping inmates become certified while incarcerated. On leaving prison, these certified culinarians (CC®) have been placed in jobs.

I am also statewide coordinator for culinary education for the Florida Farm to School Program, which helps change what children in school systems are served for school meals. I also teach food preservation classes and seminars for 4-H and develop curriculum to provide agricultural education for a number of groups.

What does my future hold? Every day is a gift, and I am always looking for the next opportunity to cook, teach and lead others to certification. My culinary career would not have happened without ACF certification and the doors it has opened, and I strive to share this path with others.

My career also would not have been possible without the mentoring and help of many ACF chefs. Walter Achatz, CEC®, Michael Carter, CCC®, CCE®, Dan Lundberg, CCC®, CCE®, Lou Oaks, Michael Ty, CEC®, AAC®, Kathy Wiseman, CEC®, John Wright, CEC®, CEPC®, CCE®, AAC®, and others have challenged me, pushed me and encouraged me throughout my career. Without my ACF mentors, I would not have gotten this far.

From a dishwasher at age 12 to a chef still having fun, this is what ACF certification has done for me.

Are you workforce ready?

As shown by Chef Bearl’s story, it takes a combination of self-determination and inquisitiveness to achieve success in the culinary industry. Trained culinarians are becoming an even more valuable commodity in today’s workplace as employers attempt to keep pace with the ever-evolving marketplace and meet society’s needs. What career path are you on? Where are you headed? Who can help you achieve your goals and aspirations? Who can redirect you, should it be required? Where do you want to work?

Employers are looking for the David Bearls of the world who understand the importance of certification and know how to lead and mentor. Here’s what you can do to get started on your certification journey:

  • Evaluate your education, experience and skills, and determine what level of certification best capitalizes on your educational background and work experience.
  • Proactively target and create career pathways. Engage and shadow leaders who are performing job functions in the environment you hope to be in one day. Ask questions about career opportunities and explore them with an open mind.
  • Share your knowledge and expertise. Be a role model. Discuss best practices and lessons learned.
  • Help support staff, colleagues, coworkers and students explore career opportunities available to them, and encourage them to explore career pathways they never dreamed possible.

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David Bearl is an associate, Regional and Local Food Systems Education, and chef, Family Nutrition Program, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. He is a member of ACF St. Augustine Chapter.

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